Jhana + Vipassana

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

Jhana + Vipassana

Postby smokey » Wed Dec 02, 2009 5:29 pm

Buddha's key innovative teaching is that Jhana should be combined with the practice of Vipassana. But today rarely anyone practices Vipassana while in a state of Jhana. That is a common major mistake because practicing as I call it "dry Vipassana" is difficult and gaining an insight knowledge is also much more difficult. Jhana enhances concentration and mindfulness while it is a state of rapture, joy and non-sensual pleasure.
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Re: Jhana + Vipassana

Postby Dmytro » Wed Dec 02, 2009 8:56 pm

Hi Smokey,

Here's a relevant quotation:

"The suddhivipassanayanika yogi, the subject under discussion, is the lowest of several types of yogis, and he needs not develop jhana particularly to dispel the hindrances before the contemplation of the four foundations of mindfullness. He dispels them while contemplating on the four foundations of mindfullness. He has to do so because he is not possessed of special powers. He is like a person, who, having no boat to cross by, has to swim across the river."

http://www.mahasi.org.mm/discourse/E24/E24ch03.htm

It seems that nobody is against jhana.

Metta, Dmytro
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Re: Jhana + Vipassana

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Dec 02, 2009 9:38 pm

Hi Dmytro,
Dmytro wrote:It seems that nobody is against jhana.

I agree. It's something of a straw man argument to line up "jhana vs dry vipassana". Clearly one needs to develop mindfulness and concentration to make any progress. My teachers have never been negative about highly concentrated states. If they come they come and one is mindful of them.

Since there are a number of widely differing interpretation of exactly what jhana is, I don't find it particularly useful to worry about whether some state is or isn't jhana. In my understanding the important thing is to clearly see the characteristics of whatever state arises (and, of course, ceases...).

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Re: Jhana + Vipassana

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Dec 03, 2009 12:36 am

Greetings Mike,

mikenz66 wrote:In my understanding the important thing is to clearly see the characteristics of whatever state arises (and, of course, ceases...).


If you're practicing vipassana, yes.

An alternative method is to advance deep into the jhanas and then retrospectively reflect on one's experiences afterwards.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Jhana + Vipassana

Postby seanpdx » Thu Dec 03, 2009 1:13 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Mike,

mikenz66 wrote:In my understanding the important thing is to clearly see the characteristics of whatever state arises (and, of course, ceases...).


If you're practicing vipassana, yes.

An alternative method is to advance deep into the jhanas and then retrospectively reflect on one's experiences afterwards.

Metta,
Retro. :)


I'm curious if anyone in this forum has read Alexander Wynne's "The Origin of Buddhist Meditation"? If so, any thoughts?

(For those of you unfamiliar with it, note that it was, IIRC, Wynne's doctoral thesis. And reads like one.)
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Re: Jhana + Vipassana

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Dec 03, 2009 3:55 am

Hi Retro,
retrofuturist wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:In my understanding the important thing is to clearly see the characteristics of whatever state arises (and, of course, ceases...).


If you're practicing vipassana, yes.

On the contrary, all the instructions I've seen regarding jhana either discuss seeing the impermanence and ultimate unsatisfactoriness of the jhana (which is, after all, just another conditioned state), either during (if you take a "sutta-jhana" definition) or after, as you say below, if you're using a deeper ("commentarial-jhana") definition:
retrofuturist wrote:An alternative method is to advance deep into the jhanas and then retrospectively reflect on one's experiences afterwards.

The former approach is detailed in MN111: Anupada Sutta: One After Another
"There was the case where Sariputta — quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities — entered & remained in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. Whatever qualities there are in the first jhana — directed thought, evaluation, rapture, pleasure, singleness of mind, contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness, desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, equanimity, & attention — he ferreted them out one after another. Known to him they arose, known to him they remained, known to him they subsided. He discerned, 'So this is how these qualities, not having been, come into play. Having been, they vanish.' He remained unattracted & unrepelled with regard to those qualities, independent, detached, released, dissociated, with an awareness rid of barriers. He discerned that 'There is a further escape,' and pursuing it there really was for him.

And so on for all the jhanas and immaterial attainments.

My point was that when I find myself in a highly concentrated state, I apply the approach described above in the sutta without worrying about whether or not it is actually jhana. I.e. I try to be mindful of the qualities of the current state and how they are changing. And I keep in mind the passage that I bolded: "There is a further escape."

Of course, there are some interesting exercises that are recommended if you really know where you are and how to control which jhana you are in, such as going up and down through the different levels, but even if the sates I get to are jhana (which I doubt), I don't have such control.

Metta
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Re: Jhana + Vipassana

Postby BlackBird » Thu Dec 03, 2009 4:02 am

Dmytro wrote:"The suddhivipassanayanika yogi, the subject under discussion, is the lowest of several types of yogis, and he needs not develop jhana particularly to dispel the hindrances before the contemplation of the four foundations of mindfullness. He dispels them while contemplating on the four foundations of mindfullness. He has to do so because he is not possessed of special powers. He is like a person, who, having no boat to cross by, has to swim across the river."


Hi Dmytro

I am quite interested in this classification, I was wondering if you could point me to some more stuff on it, couldn't find much beyond your quote in the source page.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Jhana + Vipassana

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Dec 03, 2009 4:07 am

Greetings Mike,

I don't see how it's "on the contrary"? MN 111 commences with...

The Blessed One said, "Monks, Sariputta is wise, of great discernment, deep discernment, wide... joyous... rapid... quick... penetrating discernment. For half a month, Sariputta clearly saw insight into mental qualities one after another. This is what occurred to Sariputta through insight into mental qualities one after another


That is vipassana. The Pali text for that passage even says vipassanam vipassi.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Jhana + Vipassana

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Dec 03, 2009 4:19 am

Hi BlackBird,
BlackBird wrote:I am quite interested in this classification, I was wondering if you could point me to some more stuff on it, couldn't find much beyond your quote in the source page.

That page is part of a long and technical argument between students of Mahasi Sayadaw and a Sri Lankan monk that was published as letters to a Buddhist journal back in the 50s or 60s (and subsequently collected into a book - a friend gave me a copy recently). As I understand it the key point of controversy was whether the concentration developed by following Ven Mahasi's instructions is enough to sufficiently suppress the hindrances for insight to develop. Thus there is much technical discussion of what "momentary" and "access" concentration mean, with many technical and difficult references to commentaries such as the commentary to the satipatthana sutta.

Sorry, that doesn't answer your question, but I hope it puts it into perspective.

Metta
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Re: Jhana + Vipassana

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Dec 03, 2009 5:00 am

Hi Retro,

Perhaps I misunderstood your original post.
retrofuturist wrote:I don't see how it's "on the contrary"? MN 111 commences with...

The Blessed One said, "Monks, Sariputta is wise, of great discernment, deep discernment, wide... joyous... rapid... quick... penetrating discernment. For half a month, Sariputta clearly saw insight into mental qualities one after another. This is what occurred to Sariputta through insight into mental qualities one after another


That is vipassana. The Pali text for that passage even says vipassanam vipassi.

Yes, insight into the jhanic states that he was cultivating.

The "contrary" was a response to my (probably mistaken) impression that you were saying that one had to be doing either jhana or vipassana, as separate exercises. In the sutta the insights seem to be into the characteristics of the jhanas. Some teachers teach like the above sutta - watch what is happening in the jhana (e.g. Shaila Catherine in her book "Focussed and Fearless"). Others claim that this is impossible, and one has to emerge from the jhana to contemplate it (e.g. Ajahn Brahm, "Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond). I have Either way, the insight is intimately entwined with the jhana.

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Re: Jhana + Vipassana

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Dec 03, 2009 5:05 am

Greetings Mike,

mikenz66 wrote:The "contrary" was a response to my (probably mistaken) impression that you were saying that one had to be doing either jhana or vipassana, as separate exercises.


Thanks for clearing that up. I was just distinguishing between vipassana and samatha.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Jhana + Vipassana

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Dec 03, 2009 6:55 am

The question of jhanas is not as straightforward as we might like. In the following website http://www.leighb.com/jhanantp.htm Leigh Brasington makes this pertinent observation:


1. There are a number of different ways to interpret the ancient literature about the Jhanas.
2. We don't really know exactly what type of Jhanas the Buddha and his disciples were practicing.
3. Since it is very clear that the Buddha did not regard the Jhanas as anything more than a tool, what is really important is not so much which version you learn, but that you apply the jhanic state of mind to insight practice, either while still in the Jhana or immediately thereafter.

Smokey’s statement - But today rarely anyone practices Vipassana while in a state of Jhana. That is a common major mistake because practicing as I call it "dry Vipassana" is difficult and gaining an insight knowledge is also much more difficult. Jhana enhances concentration and mindfulness while it is a state of rapture, joy and non-sensual pleasure. - does not quite tell the full picture. What do we mean by jhana based upon teachings and what teachers? "Dry vipassana" requires a considerable amount of concentration, but to say it is harder to do without jhana misses the point of the likely difficulty of jhana, if teachers as Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw are to be believed.

It also misses the point of the “vipassana jhanas” as spelled in the Mahasi Sayadaw tradition, which suggests that the traditional Visuddhimagga accounting probably does tell the full story about what jhanas might be.

Two talks on vipassana jhanas:

http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/96/talk/305/

http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/170/talk/3940/
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Jhana + Vipassana

Postby pt1 » Fri Dec 04, 2009 12:45 am

tiltbillings wrote:It also misses the point of the “vipassana jhanas” as spelled in the Mahasi Sayadaw tradition, which suggests that the traditional Visuddhimagga accounting probably does tell the full story about what jhanas might be.

Erm, tilt, did you maybe mean to say that it doesn't tell the full story? As in:
tiltbillings wrote:The Mahasi Sayadaw "vipassana jhanas" are clearly a recognition that the traditional descriptions, as in the Buddhsghosa, do not fully cover the experience(s)..
from: Modernish theravada history

Out of interest, what kind of concentration would vipassana jhana have as a basis? Momentary, neighborhood or absorption? Thanks.

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Re: Jhana + Vipassana

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Dec 04, 2009 4:20 am

pt1 wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:It also misses the point of the “vipassana jhanas” as spelled in the Mahasi Sayadaw tradition, which suggests that the traditional Visuddhimagga accounting probably does tell the full story about what jhanas might be.

Erm, tilt, did you maybe mean to say that it doesn't tell the full story? As in:
tiltbillings wrote:The Mahasi Sayadaw "vipassana jhanas" are clearly a recognition that the traditional descriptions, as in the Buddhsghosa, do not fully cover the experience(s)..
from: Modernish theravada history

Out of interest, what kind of concentration would vipassana jhana have as a basis? Momentary, neighborhood or absorption? Thanks.

Best wishes

Yes, well, I need to fire my proof reader. It should read: It also misses the point of the “vipassana jhanas,” as spelled in the Mahasi Sayadaw tradition, suggests that the traditional Visuddhimagga accounting probably does NOT tell the full story about what jhanas might be.

Out of interest, what kind of concentration would vipassana jhana have as a basis? Momentary, neighborhood or absorption? Thanks
Interesting question, to which I really had not given much thought. "Momentary, neighborhood or absorption" are not really that clear cut as experiences, though when one is solidy in a "fixed" one pointed concentration, that is quite distinct. The vipassana jhanas seem to be something far more fluid a "fixed" one pointed concentration, but also quite deep. Maybe a bit more than access but not yet fixed, giving the possibility of "momentary" aspect to the experience.

And just a side note: Buddhaghosa. Lacksadaisical proofreaders all around.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Jhana + Vipassana

Postby pt1 » Sat Dec 05, 2009 12:40 am

Thanks tilt.
tiltbillings wrote:The vipassana jhanas seem to be something far more fluid a "fixed" one pointed concentration, but also quite deep. Maybe a bit more than access but not yet fixed, giving the possibility of "momentary" aspect to the experience.

It's interesting that what you describe here is very similar to advanced practice of a dry-insighter described by B.Bodhi in ACMA, pg.348 (Jack, this also partly addresses your request):
Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote:The other approach, called the vehicle of pure insight (suddhavipassanayana), does not employ the development of calm as a foundation for developing insight. Instead the meditator, after purifying his morality, enters directly into the mindful contemplation of the changing mental and material processes in his own experience. As this contemplation gains in strength and precision, the mind becomes naturally concentrated upon the ever-changing steam of experience with a degree of concentration equal to that of access concentration. This moment-by-moment fixing of the mind on the matearial and mental processes in their present immediacy is known as momentary concentration (khanikasamadhi). Because it involves a degree of mental stabilization equal to that of access concentration, this momentary concentration is reckoned as purification of mind for the vipassanayanika meditator, the meditator who adopts the vehicle of pure insight. Such a meditator is also called a "dry insight worker" (sukkhavipassaka) because he develops inishg twithout the "moisture" of the jhanas.


This seems pretty similar to what you are saying, so perhaps "vipassana jhanas" are a modern term for something which was already described in the old commentaries?

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Re: Jhana + Vipassana

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Dec 05, 2009 12:58 am

Hi PT,

Yes, of course. The Mahasi school insists that what they teach is entirely compatible with the Suttas, Commentaries, Visuddhimagga, etc.

The long discussion between a Sri Lankan monk and some Mahasi followers was referenced here:
http://www.mahasi.org.mm/discourse/E24/E24ch03.htm by Dmytro. It contains much technical discussion about the different types of concentrations...

I have it collected into a book as "Satipatthana Vipassana Meditation Criticisms and Replies (Abridged! Edition), which is over 200 pages.

You can access all chapters (1-5) by editing the "E24ch03" to ...01 ... 02, etc but I can't figure out whether there is a contents page there...

Metta
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Re: Jhana + Vipassana

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Dec 05, 2009 1:10 am

[Apologies for the strange characters from the cut-and-paste...]

Here is the reply by Sayædaw U Ñænuttra t othe first letter.

http://www.mahasi.org.mm/discourse/E24/E24ch01.htm
It is indeed regrettable that the Ven. Kheminda Thera of Ceylon takes a lopsided view of momentary concentration and purification of mind. (Refer to his article under the above caption in the July 1966 issue of World Buddhism).Was he inspired by prejudice? If so, it is certainly detrimental not only to himself but to all those who, in the Buddha Sæsana, are making efforts, in right earnest, to abandon the four wrong courses of life (agati), and get rid of all defilements.

In The Progress of Insight (page 2), the Ven. Mahæsø Sayædaw writes: “Alluding to the latter class of persons (Suddha-Vipassanæ-yænika)”, the Papañca-sþdanø, commenting on the Dhamma-dæyæda Sutta in the Majjhima-Nikæya, says: “Herein some persons proceed directly with the contemplation of the five Groups of Grasping as having the characteristics of being impermanent and so forth, without having previously developed Tranquility as mentioned in the method called “Preceded by Tranquility” (Samatha-pubba³gamæ)(1)

There are, of course, three kinds of concentration: momentary concentration, access concentration and absorption concentration. In the above passage, it is clearly stated that contemplation is done without having previously developed access concentration and absorption concentration, and so purification of mind comes about by momentary concentration.

The Ven. Kheminda Thera takes no notice of this Commentary and allows himself to be carried away by his own bias. It should be noted that the Papañca-sþdanø, Majjhima Nikæya Commentary, is not a commentary written in Myanmar. It is a commentary translated from Sinhalese into Pæ¹i by Buddhaghosa over 1,500 years ago. Therefore the contemplation method based on momentary concentration is neither new nor Myanmar. It is quite ancient and may even be called the old Ceylon Method. It has stood the test of time.

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Re: Jhana + Vipassana

Postby tiltbillings » Sat Dec 05, 2009 2:13 am

pt1 wrote:
This seems pretty similar to what you are saying, so perhaps "vipassana jhanas" are a modern term for something which was already described in the old commentaries?

Maybe, though I suspect it is a bit more than that. Listen to the two talks by experienced meditation teachers I linked above.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Jhana + Vipassana

Postby pt1 » Sat Dec 05, 2009 2:22 am

Thanks Mike for the interesting read.

Mike wrote:but I can't figure out whether there is a contents page there...

This might be a part of it: http://www.mahasi.org.mm/discourse/E24/E24cont.htm

If anyone's interested, here are a few things I remember from comparing old and new commentaries regarding "yoked" samatha and vipassana and MN 111. It seems the notion that vipassna and jhana are conducted "at the same time" is a recent development by modern commentators who are not using a strict abhidihamma terminology, or who might not be particularly well acquainted (or simply disagree) with the old commentaries.

It seems that in the old commentaries, "yoked" referred to the fact that a path was attained by insight based on the jhana factors. I.e. there would be full jhana absorption (fixed), then there would be exiting the full absorption so that the jhana factor(s) that has just fallen away could become an object of citta accompanied by wisdom (i.e. insight). In contrast, a dry-insighter path attainment would not have a jhana factor that has just fallen away as the object of citta, but some other dhamma. Apparently, the same is true even for those who do develop a full samatha practice, (i.e. full fixed absorption) but at the moment of path attainment, they don't have a jhana factor as the object of citta, but some other dhamma.

So, "yoked" in the old days seemed to refer to a particular way of attainment, not a particular practice. I.e. according to old commentaries, jhana proper means fixed absorption, which excludes the possibility of insight at that very moment. So, I'd guess that whenever modern commentators say that insight is happening at the same time as jhana, I'd guess that what they mean is that concentration is not on absorption (fixed) level but on access level - and thus, it seems they are close to describing what was known before as "dry-insight" practice, even though they might call it "sutta jhana", "vipassana jhana", etc, though of course, this is a bit of a simplification and things might not be quite as clear-cut as that, as tilt suggests.

As for MN111, according to the old Majjhima commentary (from memory of reading about this) this sutta in fact documents the moment that Sariputta attained arahatship, while he was fanning the Buddha who was at that time delivering a sermon to another monk, sorry can't remember his name. (So this sutta is not talking about some random person here, we are talking about Ven.Sariputta - the wisest man (i.e. with strongest insight) in the history of mankind, second only to the Buddha, light-years ahead of all of us here for many life-times to come in regards of development of wisdom). Such was his wisdom and mastery of jhanas, that while he was fanning the Buddha, he could enter one jhana (full absorption) for only a few moments, then exit it the next moment and consider with insight (wisdom) the jhana factors that have just fallen away, keep fanning the Buddha some more, then enter another jhana, exit, consider the factors, etc. So every time there's listing of factors in the sutta, this is not a record of Sariputta thinking about those factors, but a record of Sariputa's direct insight into the nature of these dhammas, which happens in microseconds. When I was reading this, I was wondering, okay, so why doesn't it says so in the sutta that he was entering and exiting jhanas, and the suggestion someone made was that it was (a) so obvious to everyone in those days that it wasn't considered necessary to mention it in the sutta, but (b) it was mentioned in the ancient commentary to Majjhima just to make sure people don't forget it.

Anyway, it's very interesting to compare old and new commentaries, too bad there's not much of the old stuff available in English yet..

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Re: Jhana + Vipassana

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Dec 05, 2009 2:44 am

Hi PT,
pt1 wrote:Thanks Mike for the interesting read.

Mike wrote:but I can't figure out whether there is a contents page there...

This might be a part of it: http://www.mahasi.org.mm/discourse/E24/E24cont.htm

Yes, that's it. I must finish reading it. It gets extremely technical about what the (ancient) commentaries say about satipatthana.

Thanks for the interesting comments about the Commentary to MN111 and possible misunderstandings.
The Sutta that mentions Sariputta's arahantship while fanning is: MN 74: Dighanaka Sutta
Now at that time Ven. Sariputta was sitting behind the Blessed One, fanning him. The thought occurred to him, "Indeed, it seems that the Blessed One speaks to us of the abandoning of each of these mental qualities through direct knowledge. Indeed, it seems that the One Well-gone speaks to us of the relinquishing of each of these mental qualities through direct knowledge." As Ven. Sariputta was reflecting thus, his mind was released from fermentations through not-clinging. While in LongNails the wanderer there arose the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye: "Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation."


Of course, the whole point of the link above is that the "dry insight" path also exists in the Ancient Commentaries, not just modern ones.

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